Local TV: Staying Relevant in the New World

By Steve Schwaid

CJ&N VP of Digital Strategies


In this business, we’re so busy literally worrying about tomorrow that sometimes we fail to see what could be ahead just a year or two into the future.

Disney announced a couple of weeks ago that it will get off of Netflix and create its own streaming services. Disney will stream its own movies and shows, along with live sporting events, games and other content. One has to believe ABC shows produced by ABC Studios will show up on this service as well as other live content.

Add this to the CBS All Access service which provides content created exclusively for this platform (including “live” programming and the new Star Trek series) for a subscription fee. This service already has 4 million subscribers, many paying for the commercial-free stream.

Who will be next among the Big 4 networks?  It’s going to happen.  So what does this mean for the future of local TV?

When I worked at NBC, there was discussion of going around the affiliates by feeding/selling the network programming directly to cable companies.  Why deal with the affiliates and the many related issues?

It was a brief conversation. Those were the days before high broadband penetration, true high-quality streaming and 4G/5G mobile coverage.  There were also potential political issues and concerns about getting distribution with all of the cable providers.

How things have changed. For many the preferred distribution platform of preference is streaming via broadband – Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.

Where does your station fit in?

Will those people who choose an alternative delivery system miss your local news? We already see declining local viewership numbers. As programming migrates to other platforms, those critical prime time lead-ins are also impacted.

Cable still plays a key role today. Most people still get their TV content via cable, and cable provides TV stations hefty retrans fees. In fact, many stations may make more money off retrans than ad revenue. But that could very well change with cord cutting and increased use of content streaming services.

What happens by 2020 or 2021 when it’s time for new retrans negotiations? Already, some managers have told me they see their cable fees being cut. Users will have so many places to get content that cable subscribers will trail off.

At what point will the idea of networks going directly to the consumer and bypassing local stations resurface?

This is the future you should be thinking about.

It’s an issue of content. We know from research – quantitative and qualitative – that users think local news is often predictable and surface-level.  Weather is a declining viewer driver with smartphones providing instant and customized weather information.

A year from now, will your newscasts still look the same – basically everyone in a market covering the same stories?  If so, stagnation will continue. Viewership will continue to be impacted.

Now is the time to do a deep dive on how to remain relevant.

  • What unique content are you creating that the viewers/users want? This can’t be a gut call but must be based on research — content research that you share with the staff so they are on the same page across all shows and platforms. It’s one thing to make a gut call on a particular story, but a gut call on a news content and station strategy can be dangerous. Newsroom highways are littered with road kill from strategy decisions based on gut. It’s a mess to clean up and get back on the highway to success, and can be a tremendous waste of time and resources.
  • What percentage of your daily content is unique, enterprise and targeted to what viewers say they WANT, not what we THINK they want?
  • What production values attract local viewers?
  • Community projects are more important than ever. Stations and news departments have to create deep community connections, whether it’s supporting major local events or advocating for local issues and concerns.

Stations don’t have the luxury to shut down like an automotive plant and retool for next year’s model. Instead, it’s more like having to change the tires on the car while it’s still going 60 mph.  It’s going to be hard, but if we don’t, those tires will eventually run flat.

By | 2017-11-02T21:50:58+00:00 August 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Today developing an effective digital media strategy is critical for revenue growth and brand-building. Steve is working with station groups, website developers, content suppliers, and others to in three key areas: social media, web and mobile. In addition, Steve puts his extensive television news expertise to work for clients helping them develop and refine their on-air product. Steve has led news operations in markets across the country including Philadelphia, Atlanta, Hartford and Tampa. In addition, he has served as an executive at the corporate level for NBC Universal and Meredith Local Media leading strategic growth and digital content initiatives. Most recently, Steve was vice president of news at WTXF, FOX Philadelphia where he took all newscasts from a fourth place position to second or first. Steve has also served on several industry boards and is the winner of many awards including the Georgia AP Best Website Award and numerous Emmy awards.